How Can Memory Theory Help Inform Interviewers Criminology Essay

Published:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

When someone is a witness to a crime he\she may be required to undertake a considerable amount of testifying. Here emerges a very important issue, the memory issue.

The accuracy of the testimony is another issue that should also be considered… when someone who has witnessed a crime recount what they have seen 'with their own eyes' they tend to be believed. Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher in this area of study, reported that jury members and judges tend to trust eyewitness reports more than they do fingerprints experts.

However, there is a considerable body of testimony evidence, which indicates that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, and it is likely that there are many wrong convictions every year as a result of faulty eyewitness testimony (Loftus, 1986). Some of the cases of people convicted of serious crimes that occurred before the advent of DNA testing, introduced in 1990, have been reanalyzed using this new forensic technique. (Milne, & Bull, 1999). By March 1994, 40 people were found to have been wrongfully convicted; some of them having been sentenced to death.

There are general errors in memory: one of the reasons why eyewitness testimony may be inaccurate is because memory under any circumstances is subjected to changes-in everyday life we often remember things differently of what was experienced. We tend to organize material to make it meaningful. We add details to make sense of events, we change it in the light of subsequent information.

The memory does not provide a specific and accurate record of an event but an interpretation of it. There is therefore many reasons why memory may be unreliable. Wells (1978) distinguished two types of errors that can occur in eyewitness testimony; estimator variables which are factors affecting the accuracy of witness testimony which the justice system has no control of, for example how much attention the witness was paying at the time of incident or how much the witness experienced. In other words estimator variables can include other variables which are the amount of stress and arousal, weapon focus effect and the confidence of the witness, someone asserting that 'I am absolutely certain that she was wearing a red dress' is slightly more likely to be accurate than someone who comments that 'I cannot swear to it, I may be wrong, but I would say that she was wearing a red dress.'(Needs, & Towl, 2004). Wells called them estimator variables because they cannot be controlled in real life criminal situations so their effect can only be guesses after the event.

The second type of error in eyewitness testimony is the system variables… which affect the accuracy of witness testimony and which the justice system has some control, such as the way in which questions asked of the witness are worded or the way in which a line-up is constructed and conducted.

The amount of stress and arousal, as one of the most important aspects of the estimator variable by being a witness to a criminal event, would put the witness under considerable stress. The numerous studies undertaken on the effect of arousal levels on performance indicate that we perform poorly when we are at both low and high levels of arousal and that we perform best at medium levels of arousal. This rule is expressed on the Yerkes-Dodson law. But any attempt to conduct research into the effect of such stress on eyewitness testimony, is extremely difficult for obvious practical and ethical reasons.

However, field studies of witness accuracy in real life incidents indicate that the Yerkes-Dodson law does not necessarily apply. MacLeod et al. (1986) studied 379 reports of eyewitnesses to assaults and compared the accuracy of those in which no physical injury occurred with those in which people were hurt. There were no overall differences in the degree of accuracy. Yuille et al. (1986) contradicts this law by finding out that the greater the reported level of arousal, the more accurate the testimony.(Milne, & Bull, 1999).

In conclusion, all we can say about the relationship between stress and accuracy of testimony is that it is a very complex one. The fact that stress interacts with very many other factors means, that there are no simple answers but it is a factor that cannot be ignored, especially when people witness a very serious crime.

Another important variation of the estimator variable is the weapon focus-if a witness to a crime sees the perpetrator wielding a weapon, such as a gun or a knife, they will tend to remember details of the weapon, but be less accurate on other aspects of the scene, including the perpetrator's (e.g. Loftus et al., 1987; Kramer et al., 1990). This tendency to notice the weapon is known as the weapon focus effect.

Loftus et al. (1987) suggest that the weapon focus effect occurs because the presence of a weapon focuses attention away from less dramatic visual image, such as the face of the perpetrator. One suggestion as to why weapons attract attention is that the threat they pose may cause emotional arousal, which then causes the witness to process and remember accurately central information (the weapon itself) while being less able to encode other visual information, such as the perpetrator's face.

However, Pickle (1998) argues that this effect has been found in simulated situations in which participants looked at pictures or videotapes of a scenario in which there is little if any threat. He also argues that it is unusualness rather than the degree of threat that it is the key variable producing the weapon focus effect. Furthermore, Kramer et al. (1990) found that the weapon focus effect can occur even when witnesses self-reported arousal is low.

The results of Pickel's two experiments, which support his views, have indicated that weapon focus occurs not because of the presence of a weapon, but because weapons are surprising and unexpected in many situations. Research demonstrates that, if a person who makes a false identification from photo spreads is told that a co-witness has identified the same individual, their confidence increases dramatically. If they believe that the co-witness has identified someone else, or not been able to select anyone, here their confidence drops profoundly.

Ear witness testimony is the identification of an individual by voice and compared with eyewitness testimony, it is not as accurate; however, this type of testimony has been used to convict people of very serious crimes. For example, in 1935 Hauptmann was convicted of kidnapping and murdering the baby son of Charles Lindbergh. The testimony against him included the fact that Lindbergh believed that the voice of the man accused of the murder was the same of the one who had spoken six words ('Hey doctor, over here, over here') while collecting the ransom three years earlier.

Despite the lack of research, ear witness identification has been increasingly used in recent times, so that in 1997 judges asked for guidance on the extent of its reliability. In Britain, three researchers, John Wilding, Susan Cook and Josh Davis, have been trying to redress the balance in an area in which they describe research as unsystematic. They start by considering some important findings with respect to ear witness testimony: the longer a person speaks, the easier it is to identify them by voice later; the more the voice is disguised by whispering and similar techniques, the more difficult the identification; changes in voice quality and tone due to the emotion of the speaker, reduce the likelihood of accurate identification and finally what is actually said has no effect.

In conclusion, ear witness testimony, like eyewitness testimony, can be unreliable. After considerable recent research, Wilding et al. (2000) comment that 'From the legal point of view, our results suggest that extreme caution is needed when using voice identification by witnesses in legal contexts, unless the voice is already familiar or a fairly long utterance occurs.'

The use of hypnosis in criminal investigations increases recall but add more errors, as criticized by Gibson in his 1982 paper. He found that during interrogation, hypnotized witnesses are assured that they can remember details of certain events and this leads to recall of false memories. Dwyman and Bowers (1983) showed people photos and asked them to recall as many details as possible; first in a normal state, then under hypnosis. More items were recalled under hypnosis but most of the additional items were incorrect. The increased error rate may be due to the tendency of hypnotized people to guess or to mistake vividly imagined possibilities for actual memories. Witnesses in court who have been previously hypnotized will innocently but confidently retail confabulated events as if they are real ones.

Hypnotized people, incorporate fantasies into their memories. Witnesses who have undergone hypnosis become unable to differentiate between real and imagined events, and moreover, neither can anyone else, even expert. Based on these findings, Diamond (1980), quoted by Gibson, comments that 'the use of hypnosis by police on a potential witness is tantamount to the destruction or fabrication of evidence.' (Diamond, 1980, page 314).

Implanting of false information: a hypnotist can implant false memories into hypnotized person's mind. Some psychoanalytic, psychiatrists, hypnotists and members of the police force tend to think of memory in terms of an 'exact copy' of what actually occurred, and cannot be altered by leading questions or other suggestions. However detached a hypnotist may try to be, he or she will provide clues to the hypnotized person and influence their recall (memory).

The facility to lie: there are occasions when witnesses, victims and suspects wish to lie. Hypnosis offers them an ideal opportunity to do this. If evidence is later found to be false, the individual can then plead ignorance of information that was produced in good faith under hypnosis. Vingoe (1991) argues that if hypnosis is used in police investigations, we need to consider carefully who does the hypnotizing. Even well trained senior police officers should not operate without psychological or medical training. A major problem is, that investigators are not trained in mental health and mental health professionals are not trained in investigative procedures.

Orne (1979) argues that in order for hypnosis to be used in criminal investigations, it should only be carried out by an appropriately trained psychologist or psychiatrist; the whole procedure should be videotaped and no one, other than the hypnotist and the person that should be hypnotized, should be present; finally, the interrogations conducted prior to hypnosis should be tape-recorded so that it is possible to ascertain which of the information produced under hypnosis is new.

In order to ensure that child interviews were properly conducted, in 1992 the home Office published a Memorandum of Good Practice for interviewing children and this was largely well received (Davies et al., 1996). Psychologists emphasize the need to build rapport with young children in order that they may feel relaxed and unthreatened. One way of establishing rapport is to smile, establish eye contact and make encouraging noises when the child speaks, as would be done in ordinary friendly conversation. They are more likely to produce accurate information, if they are asked to give an account of what occurred rather than simply being asked a set of specific questions (Poole & White, 1993). Specific and leading questions should be avoided; in other words, children should not be subjected to threats for non-disclosure, to bribes for disclosures or be encouraged to withdraw information they have already supplied.

Part of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act was to permit children, in England and Wales, to testify by a close-circuit live television link (CCTV) rather than in person. Davies & Noon (1991) were commissioned by the Home Office to examine the effectiveness of such a live link and concluded that its effect was positive. In the USA, they are a little more reluctant to use it, believing it to be a constitutional right for a defendant to confront their accuser (Bull, 1998).

In conclusion, the issue of the accuracy of children's testimony is very complex. Despite arguments opposing this view, pre-school children do appear to be more suggestible than older children or adults. According to Bull (1998) allegations made about child abuse, should put in consideration the children as witnesses and that the children's testimony is not less reliable than adults. He comments: that 'Children can be tricked into providing false information and they can, on occasion, purposely lie but the essential point is how the witness's testimony is obtained and the circumstances surrounding this, which are much more important than debates.

How accurate are child witnesses?

Results from a scientific Case study of Memory for Child Sexual Abuse show that support of some form was found for 78.9 per cent of all allegations made by the girls and 85.6 per cent of sex act allegations. By using the audiotapes, it was not always possible to accurately identify exactly what sexual acts were taking place. There was also evidence that tapes had been reused, so records of acts had been taped over. Considering this, the level of support demonstrates surprisingly high levels of accuracy in the allegations the children made.

There is evidence that the children made more errors of omission than errors of commission. Errors of omission involve, acts that were not mentioned by the children but were known to have occurred because of the evidence from photographs and audiotapes. Given how numerous the sex acts, not all were mentioned. Errors of commission are those allegations for which there was no evidence; the reason for this, as already discussed, was more likely to be due to missing evidence than fabrication and lying by the girls.

It is important to note, that most people who suffer abuse outside the family do not report this to the police or mention it to anyone (e.g. Russell, 1983). In this case, although the girls were totally co-operative once questioned, none of them disclosed the abuse to any adult. Audiotape conversations showed that the children wanted the abuse to stop but rather than talking to an adult, they tried to persuade John (the organizer) to stop; two ceased visiting him, for long periods, until tricked and threatened into returning. John used a variety of threats to stop them disclosing for example, telling them that they would be arrested, as they had accepted money for sex. Therefore, this case demonstrates that children can give accurate, detailed and reliable testimony following sexual abuse.

The methods of improving witness testimony, is an important issue that should be tackled in order to use an innovative interviewing technique, known as the cognitive Interview (which has been mentioned and discussed earlier in this essay) in addition to the ways in which the identification of the individuals can be improved.

As to improving reliability of identification, we need to bear in mind that when witnesses to crimes are asked later to try to identify the suspect, they need to be able to recognize a strange face, which they have seen only in conditions that are very different from those of the crime scene. This is made even more difficult if the person to be identified is disguised or presented in a 'still form' as they might be in photographs or in an identify parade. Although our impressive ability to recognize people we know well, even after many years, we find it extremely difficult to identify a person we have only seen once in very different circumstances. Yet, much eyewitness testimony entails trying to identify a person who has been briefly seen, in less than ideal conditions.

As Bruce (1998) says: 'Changing the viewpoint, expression, lighting, hairstyle, paraphernalia such as glasses and facial hair, and contextual features such as clothing, all reduce recognition memory performance to a considerable extent. The eyewitness to crime may have to identify someone across variations of any, or all these kinds-not surprising, then, that errors are made.' (Page 331)

Improvements on identikits---identikits' pictures pose various problems for a witness; those pictures they appear artificial as they are based on the instruction of a face feature (eyes, nose, mouth and so on). However, evidence indicates that when we judge a face as familiar or unfamiliar, we do not simply judge it on a feature -by -feature basis, but on the bases of the overall configuration of the features. Therefore, the people find it difficult identifying someone from an identikit picture. Researchers have attempted to improve on this method in many ways: one-way, is the use of computers to produce a good pictorial likeness of the suspect from the witnesses' description; this is known as an E-FIT. However the original E-FIT still build-up a face on a-feature-by-feature basis: as the witness gave a description of, say the eyes, the computer chose the best set of eyes to fit this description, and so on.; the witness did not see the face until it was completed. In addition, researchers have recently invented a new system of compiling an image of criminal suspects based on the idea that an improved image would be produced, by allowing the witnesses to watch the face build up.

Another method of improving witness testimony is, the improvement of the identity parade---in which participants see a stage incident and then try to select someone from an identity parade and demonstrate that eyewitnesses are more likely to pick someone in clothes similar to those worn by the suspects than select them on the basis of their height and facial features (Sanders, 1984). Brigham & Malpass (1985) point out that criminals often change their appearance before an identity parade. One problem with identity parades is that people assume that the suspect is present and will therefore identify the person who most closely resembles the person they saw, rather than no one. Kohnken et al. (1996) recommend that witnesses should be told that the suspect may or may not be present and be urged not to guess. According to (Wells et al., 1993), all members should match the general description of the witness. Wearing clothes that are different gives the police the opportunity to conduct a second testing which suspect as described by the eyewitness: the target figure should not in any way stand out from the others. They should all be dressed in similar clothes but not similar to those worn by the perpetrator at the scene of the crime (Yarmey et al., The witness will be asked to identify the clothes worn by the perpetrator (Vrij, 1998).

Finally, researchers are also investigating whether running identity parades on video is better than doing them live, as witnesses can be so overawed by the conventional live line-up that they only look at each face for a few seconds. Using video, they can pause and rewind as much as they like. Research concerning behavior in the interview room (e.g. Moston et al. 1992; Boldwin 1993) highlighted the fact that for suspects, witnesses and victims, the interviewer can have significant impact on the quality of information gathered from the interviewee.

Interviewing, as one of the main issues in the criminal investigation practice, has to be well- planned and prepared, planning the questions that are going to be asked during the interview; creating the right approach to the interviewee; how is the interviewer going to address the person in the interview---i.e. Sir... explaining, as an interviewer, what you are going to do and what you expect from the interviewee, if either the suspect, victim or witness by giving them the freedom to tell the story; clarify things free recall interview; advocate; the amount of time in which the interviewer is going to put his interviewee under observation; the distance away between the interviewer and the person interviewed; visibility (lighting, fog); obstruction; any reason to remember events, time laps; errors; closure (the process of finishing the interview). All the above are very important issues that should be taken into account prior and during any interview undertaken. (These points will be more clarified and illustrated later in my essay).

Investigative interviewing by police in the UK has considerably changed over the last few decades. The aim of the interview has evolved from a confession-seeking exercise to a process that seeks to gather valuable information to help the investigation in a fair and ethical manner.  (Williamson, Milne, & Savage, 2009). The labels applied to such interviews have evolved from 'interrogation' to 'investigative interviewing' (enquiry), suggesting a less confrontational and aggressive approach (Robon; 1992).

'The investigative task is the core aspect of policing today and what emerges from the core task is the key element of the ability to interview' (Evans & Webb, 193, p. 37). In other words, information obtained from witnesses and victims of crime during their interview are useful, accurate and quite beneficial for the enforcement of law. Recent research conducted in the UK (Kebbell & Milne, 1998) asked 159 serving police officers for their perception for witnesses and witness performance. The result is an effective law enforcement emerging from accurate and detailed information from witnesses, although witness reports can be incomplete, partially constructed, unreliable and malleable (Loftus, 1979).

There is hardly any research, which has focused on the differences that must exist in the skills and approaches required for different types of investigative interviewing with different types of interviewee. Even within each type of investigative interviewing (e.g. with suspects) there must be variability in the approach and skills required, depending on the nature of the alleged wrong-doing and on the characteristics of the interviewee. We have suspicion that many investigative interviewers (especially those who have received little or no proper training) adopt the same approach and behave similarly irrespective of the different needs of each interview.

All interviewees are vulnerable to a certain extent being either adults, children or people with learning disabilities, and it is the interviewer's responsibility to use appropriate information-gathering procedures. Society cannot accept investigative to be poor. This affects people's perceptions of the criminal justice system. The guilty get away, the innocent are convicted and justice for children and vulnerable adults is inadequate. Poor interviewing is of no value to anyone; it is a waste of time and money. No one wins. People will not come forward, if they have no confidence in the quality of investigators' interviewing techniques.

Illustrating on the factors (mentioned previously in essay) which can interfere with our perceptions of the situation eye witness testimony; fear---new fear can affect perception, e.g. the effect of seeing a weapon, can influence your perception of the situation; Social class---the difference between a working class or a middle class person will have a great impact on both the interviewer during the interview; the emotional state of both the interviewer and the interviewee as they can be either in good or bad mood etc. ; the schema (the internal working model) the collection of information about a person or an event, what do we like the future to be: safe, happy, predict our future, do we like to stick to a routine in our life or live in a random way, for instance the schema for black people is killing, pick-pocketing etc. , the schema for white people can be raciest, prejudice; other memories can influence your perception of the situation, remember events in your routine, while others cannot be recalled---out of your routine; day and night, your perception can affect your input and storage, the process---does it fit or not your schema? in addition to your personal meaning's influence and finally the output (retrieval); time and distance---advocate (A---amount of time under observation, D---distance from suspect, V---visibility---how well did you see the person, O---obstruction of the view of witness, K---known or seen before, A---any special reason for remembering the suspect, T---time lapse--how long has elapsed since witness saw suspect, E---error or material between the description given first and any subsequent account by witness; intoxication ( alcohol) can also influence your personal perception of the situation---in eye witness testimony.

The record of the interview (MG 15) is an issue which is extreme importance to enhance the quality of the interview and achieve valuable results for the reinforcement of criminal investigation practice. It should include: the name of the person interviewed, place of interview, the date of interview, the time commenced, duration of interview, audio tape reference, the interviewer(s)'s name, other persons present during the interview; the signature of the interviewee, when completed. The purpose of this form is: to be used for suspect interviews with vulnerable or intimidated witnesses and determine the type of format i.e. SDN, ROT etc. the different types of record to be used SDN/ROTI/ Contemporaneous Notes/ Index of interview with VIW/ Visually recorded interview.

The record of interview is also an exhibit produced by the interviewing officer. Identification of the person that was present with the person interviewed. When using form as contemporaneous (immediate) notes, the officer signs on the left of the record of interview and the person being interviewed signs at the end of the endorsement. (Signature approval). The body of the text should include: admissions; main salient points (projecting); aggravating factors (intensify); mitigating (moderate, lessen) circumstances; significant silence--i.e. Refused to speak/ it could suggest the truth; special warning; offenses TIC--to clear up a crime and therefore make the police look efficient.

The witness statement is also a matter of great importance and accuracy and details of the statement is a requirement for its validity. It should also be signed a dated by the witness as to become effective in the crime investigation procedures. There is also a forensic court report which includes the case name, case number, the name of the person examined by, in addition to the analysis technique used, explanation of analysis technique, findings of the forensic report, finally the conclusion and evaluation---by comparing the results and commenting on the weaknesses and strengths of the forensic investigation.

There are still many unanswered questions with regard to the best way to interview witnesses and victims of crime: more research is required into the range of witnesses, crimes and situations for which the interview is likely to become effective and accurate; whether it is appropriate for elderly people, vulnerable and children in addition to whether police officers should be encouraged to use context reinstatement with victims of violent crime!!

Writing Services

Essay Writing
Service

Find out how the very best essay writing service can help you accomplish more and achieve higher marks today.

Assignment Writing Service

From complicated assignments to tricky tasks, our experts can tackle virtually any question thrown at them.

Dissertation Writing Service

A dissertation (also known as a thesis or research project) is probably the most important piece of work for any student! From full dissertations to individual chapters, we’re on hand to support you.

Coursework Writing Service

Our expert qualified writers can help you get your coursework right first time, every time.

Dissertation Proposal Service

The first step to completing a dissertation is to create a proposal that talks about what you wish to do. Our experts can design suitable methodologies - perfect to help you get started with a dissertation.

Report Writing
Service

Reports for any audience. Perfectly structured, professionally written, and tailored to suit your exact requirements.

Essay Skeleton Answer Service

If you’re just looking for some help to get started on an essay, our outline service provides you with a perfect essay plan.

Marking & Proofreading Service

Not sure if your work is hitting the mark? Struggling to get feedback from your lecturer? Our premium marking service was created just for you - get the feedback you deserve now.

Exam Revision
Service

Exams can be one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever have! Revision is key, and we’re here to help. With custom created revision notes and exam answers, you’ll never feel underprepared again.